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EPA Ethanol Report: Government acknowledges EPA fuel standards are a ‘red flag’ for the environment

Public News Service

The U.S. government has acknowledged that the Renewable Fuel Standard is harming the environment. The latest Environmental Protection Agency report recognized for the first time that federal mandates for fuels based on corn and soybeans have had consequences for wildlife habitat and water resources.

The standard was put in place in 2007 to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. But David DeGennaro, agriculture policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation, explained the standard has resulted in air and water pollution, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and greater food insecurity.

Supporters of the Renewable Fuel Standard say it has decreased dependence on fossil fuels, but the EPA admits it has also led to environmental degradation (Photo by Spencer Thomas from Flickr via PNS

“In finding that the Renewable Fuel Standard is having negative consequences to a whole suite of environmental indicators, the report is a red flag – warning us that we need to reconsider the mandate’s scope and its focus on first-generation fuels made from food crops,” DeGennaro said.

Right now, most gas is E-10, meaning it contains 10 percent ethanol. But President Donald Trump and senators from some agricultural states are urging the EPA to increase the mandated ethanol content of gasoline.

The EPA report indicates that biofuels have a negative effect on air quality. Johnathan Lewis, senior counsel for climate policy at the Clean Air Task Force, said ethanol from corn, in particular, is linked to increased emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOX.

“NOX contributes to ozone formation when it mixes with volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight,” Lewis explained. “So in most areas of the country, an increase in NOX emissions can result in increased ozone formation.”

Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, is a major cause of asthma and other respiratory illness.

Despite the EPA’s findings, DeGenarro pointed out there is political pressure to raise the biofuels mandate in the Renewable Fuel Standard above the “E-10” level.

“Just last week President Trump told an audience in Iowa that he was ‘very close’ to having EPA issue a waiver to the Clean Air Act to allow year-round sale of E-15,” DeGenarro said.

In March, a bill known as the GREENER Fuels Act was introduced in Congress to reduce the use of corn ethanol and cap the ethanol content in gasoline at less than 10 percent.

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